"No problem": Yes, it's a BIG problem

(CBS News) -- A certain catch phrase is posing a problem for our contributor Bill Flanagan:

When did everyone born after 1980 decide that "No problem" was interchangeable with "You're welcome"? Who spread that virus? The Taliban?

Listen, today's young people: If you want to infuriate someone born before 1980, just keep telling him "No problem" when they ask you to do something that is most certainly NOT a problem.

A very nice young man who worked for me used to have a little trouble getting in on time. Like, every day. Once a week I would say, "Look, you really have to be at your desk at 10 o'clock." Did he say, "Sorry, I'll try to do better?"

No. He would just smile and say, "No problem."

That nice young man does not work for me anymore.

Saturday night, I took my wife to a good restaurant. The waitress asked if we wanted sparkling water, still water, or tap water. I said, "Tap water, please." She said, "No problem."

I felt like saying, "Why do YOU think I think it would be a problem for you to get me a glass of water?" Luckily, my wife gave me a look that said, "Don't start."

And of course my wife was right. The waitress didn't mean to be rude. So consider this a public service announcement.

To all the young people of the world: If you want to get good tips or just generally not infuriate older people, PLEASE, only say "No problem" when there is a reasonable expectation that the task you are performing might be PROBLEMATIC.

i.e.: "Thank you for stopping your car in the rain to help me change a flat tire."

"No problem." Appropriate.

"Thank you for lending me ten thousand dollars to stop the bank from foreclosing on my house."

"No problem." Gracious.

"Thank you for giving me your kidney."

"No problem." Classy.

That's what "No problem" is for! It's a graceful way of telling someone you've gone out of your way to help, not to feel indebted.

But if you work in a doughnut shop and a customer thanks you for selling him a coffee, don't say, "No problem." He's paying for the coffee!

Just say, "You're welcome."

Try it. "Thank you." "You're welcome." Is that so burdensome?

And look at the bright side -- all of us old people will be dead soon, and then everybody born after 1980 can say "No problem" to each other for the rest of your lives.

Just hold off till then, okay? Okay.

You're welcome.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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